Reforming remedial education will be “vastly more complex” than reformers and policymakers think, argues Hunter R. Boylan in Inside Higher Ed. Boylan, an Appalachian State professor of higher education, runs the National Center for Developmental Education.
Community colleges will need to “address non-academic issues that may prevent students from succeeding, improve the quality of instruction at all levels, revise financial aid policies, provide better advising to students at risk, integrate instruction and support services, teach college success skills, invest in professional development and do all of these things in a systematic manner integrated into the mainstream of the institution,” writes Boylan.
Many policy makers are ignoring developmental education professionals and requiring colleges to adopt unproven ideas in an unsystematic way, he charges.
Historically, remedial reforms have been only moderately effective, Boylan writes. Traditional remedial classes — usually taught by poorly paid adjuncts — are cheap. Alternatives were seen as too expensive and labor-intensive.
Today’s reformers advocate “embedded support services, modular instruction, contextualized instruction, computer based instruction or accelerated remedial courses,” writes Boylan. Some want to eliminate remedial courses. But piecemeal innovations won’t work. The whole system has to change.
Most community colleges do not have the resources to do the sort of intrusive academic advising needed by underprepared students. Academic support services in the community colleges are not systematically connected to the courses they are supposed to support. There is little focused faculty development for those working with underprepared students. The system provides few rewards for working effectively with underprepared students. There is insufficient communication between those who teach remedial courses and those who teach college-level courses.
Reform plans should include evaluation to see if new models work any better than the old one, concludes Boylan.